Air Quality

State of the Air


Avoiding air pollution from fireworks despite recent legislation on New Year’s Eve in Hawaii may be like trying to stay dry while swimming; however, the American Lung Association in Hawaii (ALAH) has suggestions to keep your lungs safe from harm.

Hawaii residents should prepare for the annual air pollution assault by giving their lungs a healthy “tune-up” in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

On the big night, stay indoors and close your windows and doors. Avoid physical exertion and get plenty of rest. Use a mask designed to filter particulate matter. Check with medical supply companies and Straub Hospital. If breathing is exacerbated with a mask, discontinue use.

It is important to pay attention to lung health not only on New Year’s Eve but also for days afterwards. Particulate pollution in the air can linger and can trigger reactions from coughing and wheezing to heart attacks.


Kilauea on the Big Island of Hawaii is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Part of this activity is the production and release of gases mixed with water and tiny particles such as sulfur compounds to form VOG. One of the gases released by Kilauea is sulfur dioxide (SO2). The SO2 reacts with other chemicals in the air to form both liquid and solid particulate pollution. The particles scatter light, making the air appear hazy. It is this pollution that we see and call VOG. SO2 levels in vog are greatest close to the volcano. These chemicals are irritating to the eyes, nose, throat and lungs.

Kilauea also produces tons of lava every day. When the lava flows into the ocean, the intense heat evaporates the water, vaporizing salts at the same time. As the water vapor cools, the salts recombine and hydrogen chloride is formed. This reacts with water to form droplets of hydrochloric acid. The droplets scatter light forming a haze we call LAZE.

The VOG is moved away from Kilauea by wind. The wind direction determines which part of Hawaii will be affected. When the prevailing, northeasterly tradewinds are blowing, VOG collects on the Kona side of the Big Island before being blown out to sea. When southerly (Kona) winds are blowing, VOG affects the Hilo side of the Big Island and may blow up to impact islands farther up the chain.

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If VOG will be heavy in your area, take these extra precautions, especially if you suffer from a chronic breathing problem such as asthma, bronchitis or emphysema:


  • Do not smoke. Avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Stay indoors and use an air-conditioner, if possible.
  • If you have medications, put them in a convenient place. It is important to continue taking your medication.
    Medications you need for an acute episode should be readily available. If you don't have any medications, but feel that you might need them, call your physician. Make sure you have clear instructions from your physician as to what to do if your lung condition suddenly worsens.
  • Assume that your lung condition may deteriorate during periods of VOG and contact your physician as soon as any problem develops. Do not allow a respiratory condition to linger, especially if there is a high concentration of VOG.
  • Monitor the wind direction to find out if VOG will be blown in your area that day. You can find out the wind direction by watching the television weather report, listening to a weather radio or by checking the weather section of your local newspaper.
  • Drink plenty of fluids unless you have a medical condition that requires you to limit your fluid intake.
  • Avoid outdoor physical exertion if you have breathing problems.
  • A paper, gauze surgical, or non-toxic dust mask may be helpful. NOTE: If you find it more difficult to breathe with the mask on, don't use it. A mask is the least important of these suggestions.
  • While these suggestions are intended primarily for persons having chronic lung diseases (asthma, bronchitis, emphysema), they are also useful for normally healthy persons during volcanic haze episodes.

What You Can Do To Protect Yourself and The Air You Breathe

The American Lung Association encourages all Americans to get involved in the fight for cleaner air. Here are some simple and effective ways you can help:

  • Walk, bike, or carpool. Combine trips, use buses, subways or other alternatives to driving.
  • Fill up your car after dark. Gasoline emissions evaporate while you fill up your gas tank and contribute to forming ozone. Filling up after dark helps prevent the sun from turning those gases into smog.
  • Check your daily air quality levels and air pollution forecasts. These are often given with local weather reports, printed in newspapers and are available online at
  • Don’t burn wood or trash. Burning firewood and trash are some of the largest sources of particle pollution in many parts of the country. If you must use a fireplace or stove for heat, convert your woodstoves into natural gas, which has far fewer emissions.
  • Get involved in your community’s review of air pollution plans and support state and local efforts to clean up the air.
  • Use hand-powered or electric lawn care equipment rather than gasoline-powered. Two-stroke engines like lawnmowers and blowers often have no pollution control devices and can pollute the air even more than cars.
  • Tell your member of Congress to protect the Clean Air Act. Give local legislators the message that you want them to protect the air, by sending them an e-mail or fax. Log on at to see how easy it can be to make a difference.
  • Avoid exercising outdoors when pollution levels are high. Consider walking in an inside shopping mall or gym or using an exercise machine. Always avoid exercising near high traffic areas. Try to limit the amount of time your child spends playing outdoors if the air quality is unhealthy.
  • Encourage your child’s school to reduce school bus emissions. Most buses use heavily polluting diesel engines; newer fuels and engines are cleaner. Many school systems are using the EPA’s Clean School Bus Campaign to clean up these dirty emissions. Schools are also not allowing school buses to idle at the building, to keep exhaust levels down.
  • Contact your local American Lung Association for more information about air pollution, lung health and local air quality control at 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872), or visit

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